HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Less than a year after their homeland fell back into the hands of the Taliban amid the end of American occupation, several Afghan families are adjusting to life in Huntsville as resettled refugees.
Parents of one family are receiving help from a local church that utilized a sponsorship service endorsed by the U.S. State Department, and it invites others to join their cause.
Ben Johnson, a military veteran, declines any compliment of individual heroism for first bringing up the idea to his fellow members at The Net Church. He told News 19 he just wanted to help to ensure the Ghafooris can achieve their American dream.
“The real hands-on volunteer and the hands-on volunteers is what really changed the trajectory from struggling to being very successful,” Johnson said.
Homayoon Ghafoori assisted U.S. forces in securing the American embassy in Kabul for several years, making him and his family potential targets when the Afghan government fell last August after the U.S. pulled out of the country. His wife, Sharifa, who learned English at university in their home country, spoke with News 19 about the journey escaping their home to avoid danger from the Taliban.
“Everything we put in Afghanistan – our life, our house, everything – (it’s) just in Afghanistan,” she said. “Our families, all of them in Afghanistan.”
The Ghafooris have raised their six children in Huntsville since late January and are still slowly adjusting, but they have the help of Johnson, and other members of The Net Church, who signed up to sponsor the family. So far, they’ve found the family a rental house and sometimes drive their kids to school, all from finding the non-profit Sponsor Circles.
“Sponsor Circles is a way for normal citizens like you and me to raise the money, do the things we need to do to sponsor a family and help them resettle in your city,” Johnson said. “So we saw that, we filled out the application after we got the endorsement of our church and several members of our church to help with the financial and logistical needs, and then we submitted our application.”
“Growing up you think you can’t wait to get out, and then once you become an adult you can’t wait to get back,” fellow church member Megan Robinson said of helping the family relocate to Huntsville. “I want everybody in the world to feel this way about their hometown and it makes me happy that the Ghafooris can experience this place to live. It’s a wonderful place to live.”
Johnson and Robinson say Huntsville should be a welcoming place for more refugees like the Ghafooris, no matter their religion or the conflict they’re escaping.
“It’s not that hard. It’s just finding the time and the dedication: filling out the forms, the government paperwork,” Johnson said. “It’s just something you can do, but the joy you get from helping greatly outweighs any kind of sacrifice anyone’s made in the program.”
“It’s a lot easier to help those people than you think,” Robinson said. “Phone calls can be made and there are groups that you can join to help those people who seem so far away that are really just here in our backyard.”
And the Ghafooris are grateful.
“We are strong now,” Sharifa said. “My children, my family, me and my husband – we are all strong now because we are in here. There’s no difficulties, no Taliban. So we are happy and we are strong now here.”
The church has also started a GoFundMe to help the Ghafooris and their six children pay bills and settle into their new beginning.